Election of Bishop in Kansas Goes High Tech

The proceedings of the electing convention were broadcast over the internet via streaming video
Jul 15, 2003 11:50 PM EDT

The recent election of a bishop coadjutor for the Diocese of Kansas had a decidedly high-tech flavor. The Rev. Dean Wolfe, vice rector of Saint Michael and All Angels Church in Dallas, Texas, was elected July 12 in a special convention held at Grace Cathedral in Topeka. More than 100 clergy and 130 lay delegates participated in the election--in person.

The proceedings of the electing convention, however, were broadcast over the Internet via streaming video and audio through the bishop search committee website, while ballot-by-ballot results were posted on the site within minutes of the release of the vote totals. A photo of Wolfe and a notice of his election also were posted on the website immediately after the announcement of an election was made. The web-related efforts were coordinated by Deacon Charles Pearce of Manhattan, Kansas.

Long-distance balloting

An Internet connection also allowed a Kansas priest to vote from Bosnia where he is on active military duty. The Rev. Don Davidson is serving as a chaplain with the Kansas Army National Guard as part of the multi-national peacekeeping efforts in Tuzla. Last fall the Kansas convention, anticipating his absence for military service, adopted a special diocesan canon that permitted Davidson to cast a ballot via the Internet. He communicated his intention through a secured line to a member of his parish who acted as his proxy and completed a ballot on his behalf.

Technology also extended to ballot counting. The diocese purchased two special ballot scanning devices which eliminated the need to hand-count each vote. As voting progressed, ballots were carried to the scanners in the Grace Cathedral office, where volunteers ran the computer cards through the scanners. By counting the votes electronically in batches as they were cast, vote totals were available within minutes after the final delegate had cast a ballot.

Wolfe was elected on the fifth ballot with 62 clergy votes and 74 votes in the lay order. He had received a majority of clergy votes on the fourth ballot, and the required lay votes were achieved on the next ballot. Ballot by ballot results for all candidates are available on the search website, www.kansasbishop.org.

A quick trip to New York

Bishop-elect Wolfe had little time to reflect on his election--he had to pack immediately for a trip to New York.

In order to have all paperwork completed and processed so his election could be considered by General Convention, Wolfe had to leave for an appointment in New York on July 14 with the doctor assigned by the presiding bishop's office to conduct the required psychological evaluation. He returned to his home in Dallas the following day.

Because there were only two days between the election and the doctor's appointment, the search committee purchased a round-trip airline ticket for each of the four candidates, a procedure that proved less expensive than waiting until the last minute and buying only one ticket for the person elected. Search committee chair Larry Bingham said the other candidates either could use the ticket on a date of their choice--or redeem it for cash.

The election of the new coadjutor must be ratified by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which meets July 30-August 8 in Minneapolis. Assuming that ratification occurs, Wolfe will be consecrated November 8 in Topeka at the 2003 Diocesan Convention and will become the Ninth Bishop of Kansas when Bishop Willam Smalley retires on January 1, 2004.